Institutt for sosialantropologi

Pastoralism in Transformation.

Conflict and Displacement in Northern Kenya


by Thor Erik Sortland

Supervicer: professor Vigdis Broch-Due

The overall subject in my thesis is about transformations in North-Kenyan pastoralism. I will focus my discussion on a case of conflict and its subsequent displacement of Samburu pastoralists in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. More specifically the conflict occurs in the districts Samburu and Laikipia. The opposing sides in the conflict are the pastoralist ethnic groups Pokot and Samburu. However, looking at the reasons behind the violent and disruptive events I found that a range of different ethnic groups and subsistent categories is involved.
I devote my first two chapters to a lengthy discussion of what I consider being the generating causes behind the conflict and displacement. In my first chapter I shed light on how the processes behind it are grounded in the Kenyan history. Pastoralism as a mode of production has been under tense pressure since the beginning of colonialism in Kenya. To deal with the pastoralist ‘problem’ the British colonial power forced them out of their range-land and into controlled and isolated “tribal reserves”. By restricting the movement of nomadic ethnic groups they could give the best range-land to European settlers. And by forcing the pastoralist ethnic groups into controlled regions they could execute measures to control and organise people they viewed as ‘unpredictable’ and ‘disorganised’. The effects from colonialism were immense both in regards to land availability, economy and the relationship between neighbouring pastoralists. In Kenyan post-colonial history pastoralists continue to suffer a decreasing availability of land, increased economic marginalisation and a rise in conflicts between pastoralist ethnic groups.
In my second chapter I focus primarily on how land in the Rift Valley region is contested over in these post-colonial days. Here I discuss the various perspectives held on the meaning of and appropriate use of ‘landscape’. I show how the pastoralist argument is devalued by the government and many Non Governmental Organisations as disruptive towards the environment and against development. Other groups living in Laikipia pertaining to the governmental development discourse tent to obtain land more easily.
In my two last chapters I focus more strongly on how the conflict and its subsequent displacement have affected Samburu and Pokot social life, economy and ritual life. In chapter three I focus on how displaced Samburu were received by local inhabitants and regional administration in Samburu district. In this chapter I show that displacement entail poverty, and that poverty for Samburu is as much about loss of dignity as it is about economic destitution. Some of the consequences I discuss include disintegration of pastoral exchange relations, alcoholism and the emotional affliction from loosing important objects.
I will devote my last chapter to address the implications the conflict had on Samburu and Pokot ritual life. The conflict started in the midst of the opening of a new age set in Samburu society. People had to flee from marriage ceremonies and initiation villages were disrupted to such a degree that participants were pushed away in different directions. I gained a good understanding of the meaning and importance of rituals by observing and participating in them. This chapter will round up my overall subject of transformations in pastoralism, as I will argue that in a longer process conflict, land alienation and state-marginalisation leads to structural changes in the form and meaning of Samburu rituals.